Different Tennis Techniques But Same Ball Trajectory?

May 27

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Do you really need different tennis techniques in order to achieve different shots?

Do you really need to know a specific forehand follow-through technique in order to achieve a high ball or a low ball or a ball with more top spin?

In the video below, I  vary the preparation and follow-through of a forehand and yet achieve roughly the same ball flight.

I’ll join the discussion below this time, let me know your thoughts…

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59 comments

  1. Luiz /

    So, what is the conclusion? If the trajectory is the same, should you use the simplest technique? Is it?
    Luiz

    • Tomaz /

      In my view the conclusion is that a certain technique does NOT determine the ball flight.

      I say this because so many times I see other coaches tell you how to move your arms in order to produce a certain ball.

      I don’t think that’s necessary and is in fact taking you away from instinctively doing it to doing it more consciously which in fact will cause more errors because you don’t track the ball well, you don’t time it, etc.

      • Larry Buhrman /

        Hi Tomaz,

        I agree with you 100%. I am a certified tennis teacher and played international tournaments in the juniors as well as college tennis. I first learned the old American techniques of “conventional” tennis and taught it for many years. I started to notice that none of the pros were playing that way anymore, at least not the ones who won matches. So I began to study what they were doing-guys like Agassi. I studied them in slow motion as well as your teaching and other great teaching pros, and learned their techniques. I finally discovered that what you say is true and it is the way top players developed the swings they have. The contact is the critical factor as the angle of the strings on the ball determine everything, including the direction and the spin. This becomes very evident to me when I give someone a tennis lesson. Once my students understand this, the can control the placement and spin of their strokes. They can mimic modern pro players and focus on the many movements of the stroke, and their form looks good, but miss the ball entirely, as I am certain you know. I can see this in club players who look like hackers, but have great eye/hand coordination. They win a lot of matches, although other aspects of modern tennis technique does enhance the effectiveness of their strokes once this fundamental understanding and ability to set the proper angle of the strings and their timing of the contact have been mastered. This is the first step I teach, then I gradually help them development the forward path of the follow through after initial contact. I also like to start them with an open stance which seems to make it easier for them to see/track the ball and to facilitate setting the angle of the racket at contact. At some point early on we experiment with the finish, which helps in developing the natural path of the stroke after contact.

      • Luiz /

        Hi Tomaz,
        Thank you so much.
        Luiz

  2. Simon /

    The ‘Nadal’ swing looks like you are about to pull your shoulder out of its socket… same ball tradjectory but surely an injury waiting to happen.

  3. Which one felt the most comfortable to you?

    • Tomaz /

      My usual technique because I’ve been using it for 20+ years. But a low preparation is also very comfortable to play… High follow-through over my right shoulder requires more work but it’s still not straining…

  4. Tennis Guy /

    This is very interesting eye opening. I trying to keep up with all these follow through techniques (and that can take hours) and now realize that I can master one and get the same results — maybe better as I can focus on placement and control than technique.

  5. Maurice /

    If you see the Nadal movement you realise that you need big arms to keep up with this a whole match. Follow-through over the left schoulder looks like less power is needed …it’s more smooth, natural. In addition you seem to be better prepared for the next shot.
    Can’t tell anything on the flat racket preparation though.

  6. Rick S /

    I have always believed that there is more than one way to be successful at sports (and life for that matter). You see it all the time, someone comes up with a different looking (and successful) technique and before we know it, it is being copied. I think you look at all the different techniques and see which one is easiest for you to master. See which one you have the most confidence in and feels right to you. Or… You get creative and develop a new technique, someone is going to! Just look at the last 20 years of tennis and you can easily see how the game has changed.

  7. Jon C /

    I think most of Nadal’s weird shots do nothing more than a regular stroke. I will never hit the buggy-whip forehand.

  8. Gene /

    He looks relaxed on both strokes. He won’t hurt himself on the reverse forehand as long as he’s letting his arm stay relaxed throughout the shot.
    Tomaz, I’m assuming you’re trying to make a point about the contact point being the most important part of the shot. I learned that from you years ago and that seems to be what matters once it’s all said and done. Hopefully I’m on the right track. Keep up the good work!

    • Tomaz /

      Hi Gene,

      My feel is this: what I do with the ball is determined with the racquet path through contact – how I get there and how I get out of there doesn’t really matter.

      In fact, both – how I get there and how I get out of there simply HAPPEN based on the most comfortable and natural way of achieving the desired racquet path.

      That’s why I can play with my follow-through and do what I want because it doesn’t matter.

      Most teaching though will emphasize the follow-through a lot and then so many players “perform” the follow-throughs instead of trying to feel and play the ball how they want.

      Yes, there is a place in learning tennis technique where you focus for a while on the follow-through just to get your racquet path in the right track.

      After that you need to play the ball and know nothing about your body parts…

      • TLP /

        Hi Tomaz,
        isn’t the follow-through the product of the racquet path through contact? That said, the Nadal style is expected to generate more topspin right? So, to generate the same ball path (with same spin) using all these different follow-throughs shouldn’t feel more weird with some follow-throughs and more comfortable with others?

        Obs: Sorry for any grammatical mistakes (English isnt my native language)

        • Tomaz /

          Yes, the follow-through is the product of the racquet path. The “conventional” teaching says that the racquet path is the product of the follow-through. ;)

          You are being told that a certain “technique” will produce a certain ball. I am saying that a certain ball with produce a certain technique…

  9. Greg /

    It’s all about point of contact, after the ball has left your racket, it’s all personal preference where the racket path goes.

  10. Petko /

    Hi,
    I”ll try all shots, but which kind of grips I must to use for them?
    Thanks.

    • Tomaz /

      I play with semi-western, but can do it with eastern too. Or continental. In fact, perhaps I can demonstrate that too in the next video. ;)

      • Nick /

        Tomaz – I’d love to see the continental! I know that it’s an anachronism, and I’m not a very good tennis player, but I do love something about using the same grip all the time. It feels comfortable to me. Perhaps I’m a simpleton, but it’s one less thing for me to think about, and I can instead just focus on the ball (though I fail at that most of the time…). One frustrating thing about it though is that it’s hard to find good examples of someone actually demonstrating what a good continental forehand looks like. I just have to wing it, and am getting better, but would love to see your take on it.

        • Tomaz /

          All right, Nick, I’ll hit some continental forehands soon. I use it often to rally with someone at the net…

  11. Ron R /

    Excellent demonstration. Muscle development will determine which is these swings is most comfortable and effective for a player. In general the more extreme low to high stroke (or buggy whip) can provide a higher bouncing topspin. This needs a higher looping tragectory so the ball has a steeper drop. I can get faster spin on the ball, faster acceleration with less effort, with a more upward movement of the arm, particularly effective when there is less time to turn the hips and shoulders. This can turn a defensive shot into offense by using high bouncing topspin.
    But as pointed out, one can can hit a low trajectory or high looping shot swinging across the body as well.

  12. Just a month ago, I started hitting more “Nadal” shots out of nowhere. Most of the time, I don’t try to do it–just sort of happens. I think I finally got over my fear of decapitating myself in the process, so I feel free to use it.
    I use the type shown here—mostly vertical swing with the racquet coming to rest behind the right shoulder or slightly to the right–when I am really late on a shot or dealing with a surprisingly deep ball. I also sometimes end up using it when I get jammed up with side-spin (e.g., serve returns). So for me, it’s not a matter of pursuing a different ball trajectory (more spin), but simply a way of dealing with non-ideal balls or body positioning. Generally speaking, I would have just about all the incoming balls shown here with around-the-other-shoulder finish. There are, however, times when I feel after the fact that I could have hit the ball with the more “standard” stroke, but that I was lazy, did not prepare well enough, so I had to “settle” for this shot. So I guess it can be a bit of a slippery slope.
    I also use a more “across” type of “Nadal” shot when dealing with high balls. In this case, the racquet head ends up well on the left side, but instead of wrapping around the shoulder as it would with my “standard” forehand, it whips back to the right side above my head. I feel like this allows me to be far more aggressive with high bouncing balls, and that I can hit the ball forcefully while still getting a good deal of spin for safety. I can’t get that combination in this situation hitting any other way.

  13. Alan Vawdrey /

    I think the first example looks more fluent, stylish, and easier on the body.

  14. Jay /

    Which style is the simplest to execute ?

    • Tomaz /

      For me personally my usual forehand with racquet head up because it gives me momentum when the racquet drops. The follow-through just happens, I just want to do something with my strings to the ball and then I let go. The ball is gone, nothing more to work on…

  15. Peter /

    Hello Tomaz,
    first I want to mention, that Nadal is mostly not taking the racket over the right shoulder (as you say) but around his head – in the direction of his left shoulder first and then coming back to the right(of course he is a lefty!). This seems to me less dangerous considering a possible injury!
    Second – the trajectory can be the same – but is this also true for the spin after the ball is landing? I don’t think so.
    Third – I believe it is important to see what feels (your subject!) more natural?! If Nadal hits more with a long arm = the follow throw over the head seems a natural consequence…
    Still, it is interesting to realize there are different ways to “ROME” or French open. – Tomaz, Keep doing your great job!

    • Tomaz /

      Hi Peter,

      Good point on Nadal’s follow-through, yes, he does swing to the side slightly first.

      Secondly, I can hit the same spin on both follow-throughs. Sure, the Nadal follow-through makes it EASIER to hit with more spin but it doesn’t do it automatically because first I hit the ball how I want and LATER I modify my follow-through.

      And thirdly, I am certain Nadal developed his technique unconsciously simply because he wanted to impart as much topspin on the ball as possible.

      He focuses on the ball and what he wants to do with it and the follow-through happens.

      As I mentioned above, the problem I see now online is that all this is taught. As if technique comes before the function.

      It does not.

      We want a certain effect on the ball, we do it with strings to the ball and the technique happens.

      That’s what I’d like to share here.

      Thinking about technique will cause you to play worse than thinking what you want to do with the ball as that is actually “playing tennis”.

      • Larry Buhrman /

        Well said. You think and teach like the most successful professional players. Those who don’t understand this are limited, to say the least.

      • Gene /

        Great point, this is what’s been attributed to the demise of US players lately. We supposedly teach too much technique and I believe it to be true. I used to teach too much technique and not enough feel. You changed that in my teaching, Tomaz. It’s not like we want to over burden our students on purpose but it seems like the right way to teach if we don’t know about the feel part of tennis. I’m grateful in many ways that I found your site and my students have improved to the point of winning tournaments be cause of it. I’m am forever in your debt.

  16. Andy /

    Same trajectory but the ball hit Nadal style will have more RPMs and more action off the bounce. The flip side is you have to impart more energy which may take its toll you.

    • Tomaz /

      Not necessarily, Andy. I can hit my normal forehand with much more RPM than Nadal follow-through.

      It is my choice what I do at contact point. I am modifying follow-through as I like.

      I do agree that Nadal’s FT makes it easier to hit with more RPM but would like to point out this mistaken belief you have that this will create more RPM as if that’s certainty.

      What matters is the racquet path. I can use Nadal FT and still extend longer through contact with a more shallow path through contact and there won’t be much RPM.

      And I can use my typical forehand with a steeper path and more acceleration and create way more RPM – like Roger does for example.

      • Larry Buhrman /

        There are other factors besides the angle of the racket at contact and the path of racket after contact that determine the RPM, like how much racket speed and muscle flex for greater acceleration of the racket. That can vary with every individual. I’m a huge fan of Federer’s, but Nadal routinely hits with more RPM than Federer. Federer does some things better than Nadal-RPM is not everything. lol.

  17. Larry Buhrman /

    There are several factors involved with determining the projection and spin on the ball. I find that I get more top spin when I use a more western grip rather than a more continental grip. Nadal’s grip is more western than Federer’s. I get more top spin when my racket head drops lower at some point before
    contact with the ball. After the contact I get more top spin the more abruptly and higher I do the windshield wiper move. I get more top spin the better I use my legs to drop down and then lift up with my stroke.

    There is also the major factor of side spin that is created as the racket is accelerated across the ball. I don’t think most traditional players understand this-that Nadal and Federer don’t hit through the ball the way conventional players do. There strokes are angular and finish across the body with long accelerating follow throughs. They also use their wrists and forearms differently rotating/pronating rather than keeping the wrist and forearm straight as per the old techniques taught in the U.S. traditionally.

    I think you’re showing that the backswing doesn’t matter, and that it’s what happens with the racket moving into the ball that makes the difference. It looks like you do get a higher projectory and more top spin the more abruptly and the more exaggerated you pull up with the racket head after initial contact and the higher you finish with your elbow up. Nadal’s buggy whip most of the time actually is more of a combination of the two finishes in that his racket swings all the way across his head and and over his right shoulder, then winds up over his left shoulder (he hits his forehand with his left hand), as yours finishes over your right shoulder, since you’re right handed. Many players do pull up the way you demonstrate your buggy whip in certain situations, but they lose power abbreviated the follow through that way.

    I could go on, but I think this may be a little too long already. I’m sorry about that! You are one of the best modern/feel the ball tennis teachers I’ve ever studied, and your teaching over the years has helped me understand tennis and “feel” the ball so much better! Thank you very much for your excellent and generous work that you share with so many tennis players and tennis teachers.

    • Tomaz /

      Thanks for sharing, Larry.

      I didn’t demonstrate but I can easily hit Nadal’s FT into the net. ;)

      So the higher trajectory is a myth. I can use my usual FT and hit a top spin lob and use Nadal FT and hit it very low. What matters is the angle of the racquet path – and angle of the racquet itself.

      • Larry Buhrman /

        HI Tomaz,

        I should have kept on with my explanation. Yes the angle of the racket at contact is the one most important factor, which requires total focus when tracking the ball and a still head before, during, and after contact. I agree with you 100%. As you have taught so well, that requires “feeling” the ball at contact, not just taking a predetermined swipe at it. Waiting to see the ball after it bounces before starting your continuous timed swing, thinking only about setting the right angle at contact and the right angle of the follow through are the things to focus on. Having the right finish in mind helps me to connect the dots . I don’t even think about a back swing, just setting the right angle of the racket at contact (like touching/feeling the ball carefully, then accelerating through the correct path with a complete finish of the stroke. I agree that thinking about a dogmatic way of hitting an entire stroke first focused on back swing and footwork kills the most important aspect of the stroke, clearly seeing and feeling the ball at contact as you set the correct angle of the racket strings which maximizes your eye/hand coordination.

        This lesson you taught might be the most profound so far! Thanks again for making us all think and for your valuable time taken to respond to our comments.

        Well done, as always!

  18. John C /

    absolutely love it Tomaz … ‘food for thought’ indeed!

    So many instructors insist/suggest that there is just one ‘right’ way to swing or hit the ball, when we all know from playing ourselves and from watching other good players that the swing path can vary depending on one’s grip, whether one is stretched or hurried or moving forward or backwards and whether you are hitting a ball at your feet or one that you had plenty of time to track etc. And – as you have pointed out numerous times – a lot of stuff ‘just happens’. Tennis isn’t golf! Except for the serve – we have to move to the ball and even with serve we have to time the swing with the toss and for most of us – the toss isn’t always in the same place every time.

    Our opponent is hitting varied shots and trying to get us out of position and disrupt our timing and we have to adapt and adjust – often just reacting … instinctually.

    We are stretched wide and the opponent is coming into net and we almost naturally alter our swing path to produce a sharply angled cross court ball or a little extra topspin to hit a ball down the line over the high part of the net and still get it to come down, etc. Yes … we can and do practice these things, but so often when it happens it just happens and you just react. Again … this ISN’T golf!

    Yes – it’s important to learn the basics mechanics and timing of a so-called ‘normal’ FH and BH and to move to the ball so as to be in position to hit the ball ‘on balance’ and at a comfortable contact point as often as possible, but to get past the intermediate level – one has to be able to hit the ball effectively on the move and under stress and when the ball isn’t at the perfect height and/or when it lands at your feet and/or where you are on the dead run or at full stretch, etc. … and a lot of times … it just HAPPENS! Your mind knows what shot you want to make and where you want to try and hit the ball and without really thinking about it – you produce a swing that usually comes close to achieving the shot that your mind envisioned.

    Food for thought indeed …

  19. Hankyol Hong /

    In a similar vein as Gene, I think the point you are trying to make is that the extremely short time during which the contact is made is all that determines the ball direction, speed and spin. The role of preparation and follow-through is merely to help you make contact in a desired way, nothing more.

    • Tomaz /

      Yes, something along these lines.

      I know the trajectory and spin of the ball BEFORE I hit it.

      My body finds the angle of the racquet path in the most comfortable way and then I impart that with strings to the ball.

      Everything else just happens.

      That’s why I can modify preparation and follow-through because they are NOT crucial for hitting the ball in a desired way.

      The racquet up preparation simply allows and easier swing and the FT on the left simply happens after I let go after hitting the ball.

  20. Ignacio Ambort /

    what about kids? as their muscles and body structure is not fully developed should we teach them to hit the ball in a particular way that helps them on his body development or should we make more time to teach them that what happens on the racket when they get the ball is the most important thing?

    great stuff as always tomaz!

    • Tomaz /

      Good question, Ignacio. Kids should be taught (in my opinion) quite flat strokes so that they get a clean hit through the ball. As they become stronger, adding spin is easy.

      But the reverse is not true in my experience: if a kid plays with a lot of top spin from the start, they have trouble hitting the ball flat(ter) when they need to. (attacking shots, returns!, etc.)

      • John C /

        interesting that you say that Tomaz – since I usually associate the production of spin with a heightened sense of ‘feel’ – that I know you advocate.

        When I warm up – I try not to hit too hard at first, but I want to make sure that I get a sense of control at the start and being able to generate a bit of loopy topspin and slice off both sides helps with that sense of control and helps me dial in the ‘depth’ of my shots.

        Once I start to get my timing and some “feel” on my strokes – I amp up the pace and start mixing in some harder flatter shots – knowing that I can adjust things by adding a bit more spin if I start spraying things a bit. And of course, the spin adds a bit of margin on angled shots and shorter balls that you want to approach on.

        Of course – we have a tendency to take things to extremes and certainly I do see more kids today with extreme grips and exaggerated loopy topspin shots (especially on the FH) so maybe it’s harder for them to get a feel for ‘hitting through’ the ball in the same way that I’ve had to learn to hit more topspin on my FH by changing from a continental grip and a linear swing to an eastern FH grip and a more angular swing where I pull the racquet across my body to generate speed and spin.

        • Tomaz /

          I find that hitting the ball CLEAN fairly flat with a low trajectory is a shot that requires a lot of feel and attention to detail. Most club players cannot hit such a shot consistently.

          Their spin shots therefore lack the drive. They are just too slow for someone who can play tennis for example at 4.5 – 5.5 level.

          I FEEL that my fairly flat “pop” stroke is the foundation upon which I am adding spin and still keep a good ratio of speed and spin.

          • Javier /

            Very true Thomaz, some adults have problems to hit a clean flat ball at will, any tips to hit this shot?

          • Tomaz /

            Slap it as if you wanted to slap someone on their behind. ;) Then just let the momentum carry you through into the follow-through.

            Another thing to tape in the near future…

  21. Steve /

    Tomaz,
    I love your videos. You always think of the most interesting topics
    to cover. I learned a lot of good stuff from your videos. Thanks
    very much for posting this video.
    Regards,
    Steve

  22. Joe /

    Love it. I used to watch Borg use the buggy whip and then for a while no one used it and then a successful Nadal got people interested again. There has been way too much emphasis on emulating a technique without consideration to what feels natural to a developing player. I can roll a bowling ball following a pattern of perfect body movement and still miss a lot of pins. The form follows success as much as the form builds success.

  23. Felix /

    Your “Nadal’s forehand” looks like a “caricature” of the authentic one and perhaps that’s why you get the same effect than with a traditional forehand. Your ball is devoid of the heavy top spin that Rafa exerts on his shots and that’s why the trayectory of your shots is the same regardless the technique you use.

    Best Regards

    • Tomaz /

      My forehand looks like a recreational type of forehand of Nadal’s technique. 99% of the readers of this blog are recreational players and perhaps only 5% would be able to hit it better than me.

      And none would be able to reach even 10% of Nadal’s effect on the ball so it’s really pointless to use any comparison between professionally trained pros, let alone the guy who can impart the fastest spin on the planet – and club players.

      I can impart way more top spin on the ball if I choose so – whether with a normal follow-through or Nadal follow-through by the way.

      Secondly, you also missed the whole point of this article. I get the same effect on the ball with ANY technique because the technique (in this case the follow-through) does not determine the ball’s flight.

      For most people brainwashed by poor online instruction this is something that they have never seen as it is contrary to all those teachings.

      Thirdly, mind your tone.

      • Felix /

        First of all, forgive me. It wasn’t my aim to be rude with my commentary. I really love your blog. I’m always looking forward to see your next post, but I do not agree with the idea that “different preparation and different follow through” as you say in your video gives same ball trayectory.
        As you know, the rotational energy in the ball (the spin) creates forces that modify the trayectory depending on the angle of such rotation. This is based, as I’m sure you know, on Bernuilli’s principle, the same that makes airplanes flight. Different preparation and follow through will create different impact and effect on the ball (and so different trayectory), unless you hit almost flat regardless the path of the racquet.

        Again, I beg your pardon

        • Tomaz /

          Whether you agree or not, the proof is right in front of your eyes.

          I can hit the ball with a certain racquet path and angle and modify my follow-through in any way I want because a split second after the contact I am relaxed.

          When people are taught to move their arms in a certain way, they keep “doing” something well after the contact which is pointless.

          They also “do” a lot of things before the contact hence they are stiff.

          The “secret” to fluid tennis is letting go as much as possible before the contact, “do” something just before and at contact and then immediately let go.

          Because I do that, I can play with my preparation and follow-through and do whatever I want and still keep the same ball.

  24. Joe Jannuzzi /

    Tomaz:
    Yours is the best online tennis instruction I have ever seen, bar none. Others have some good features but everything you teach online is almost like a tailored instruction on the topics I’ve been trying to help my son improve his game with. This lesson is an example.
    Thank you.

  25. Hemant /

    I guess your effort is to help us focus on stroke through contact as primary. I thought preparation and follow through help create the desired stroke through contact but I see the danger is missing the woods for trees.

    Thanks for reminding what really matters more.

    • Tomaz /

      Yes, missing the woods from the trees is a very good analogy.

      When you play tennis, you need to hit the ball over the net with the appropriate force and trajectory in order to make it land roughly where you want.

      So when the ball is approaching, you need to judge its speed and trajectory in order to calculate the force and angle at which you are going to hit the ball.

      That’s quite a calculation – as you need to figure out the angle of the racquet path and angle of the racquet face at the same time.

      Then you need to hit the ball with that exact parameters at the exactly the right time.

      See what I am saying?

      You need complete and total focus on the ball if you want to pull this off.

      Any time you think about your body you will focus on the ball less – hence you won’t hit it well and you won’t make land where you want.

      The technique is important for beginners to steer them in the right track.

      Later you “do” technique unconsciously when you feel its function. It helps you swing better.

      Then you need to let go of technique and only FEEL the forces you create which you must then “tame” and “control” in order to swing at the ball with the proper force, angle and speed that you calculated by being totally focused on the ball.

  26. Larry Buhrman /

    Hi Tomaz,

    Great explanation! I believe this is why Federer sets his vision on the strike soon and doesn’t look away from it until he has completed his swing. The habit of immediately moving your head and eyes after contact caused by the need to see the results of your stroke is the worse distraction of all.

    And I agree with you that there must be total focus on the ball with developing the angle and path of the swing to hit the particular desired shot shot. Once primary focus is placed on anything else, bad things happen!

    Thanks to you, Tomaz, you have reinforced this for me and my students. I always discuss this, but as my students improve and I get more technical with different swing paths, load and explode, etc., we can get side tracked. So always keeping angle at contact and eyes and head focused at the contact and even well after contact, the other aspects of tennis technique must just be barely present and gradually developed.

    I’m seeing much better results in my game as well as my students thanks to your excellent teaching!

    Larry Buhrman

  27. Could you maybe do a feature on spin generation, or how to generate different types of topspin balls. I have been using your roll the ball drill with great success. But I’m still a bit confused about how to generate a higher bouncing topspin ball vs a shot that still has a lot of spin but is more driving. When you watch the pros warm up and hit the path of there balls is much more arching and more severe. They seem to be able to hit balls that clear the net by large margins and bounce just past the service line, and then without changing there stroke hit more through the court. I don’t have a problem getting the ball deep, and through, but I would like to be able to get more shape or arc on the ball to give more margin, but still have it bounce high. What needs to happen in order to do this? How can I work at this using the roll the ball technique?

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